Sunday, December 31, 2023

A year of progress: Lord Bonkers in 2023

A survey of what the doyen of Rutland Liberalism has been up to this year.


The old boy found himself grappling with the party leader's unwillingness to have the European Union mentioned in his presence:

To the new Liberal Democrat HQ in Vincent Square (or that may be the name of the helpful chap on the desk – I got caught in the rain on the way back to St Pancras and my notes have run rather). 

I arrive to find the place in turmoil: our own dear leader, Ed Davey, has placed a bucket over his head and is resisting all entreaties to take it off. Vincent Square (if that is his name) explains that someone has just mentioned the European Union to Davey, and that the only way to persuade him to remove the aforementioned pail is for us all to climb into the ornamental fish tank that dominates the entrance lobby and sing ‘Jerusalem’. 

So your diarist, Vincent Square, the lovely Sarah Green MP and a bicycle courier who arrived at the moment juste brave the angelfish and give it both barrels. Sure enough, our leader is soon bucketless.


A clue as to why I may have been drawn to working for Lord Bonkers in the first place emerged in the shape of a photograph in the early 1960s of me in a sailor suit.


The month began with a minority Liberal administration taking control of Rutland after taking almost 50 per cent of the vote across the county.

And Lord Bonkers shared his memories of previous local election nights in the East Midlands:

I can remember when every council for miles around counted its votes overnight. A chain of beacons would bring news of Liberal triumphs and Liberal defeats: an unexpected victory in Brixworth; a slew of gains on Wigston Urban District Council; disaster at Ashby de la Zouch. 
I was once convinced we had taken Holland County Council, only to find I was watching the distress flares from a Liberian-registered tanker on Rutland Water. 


In one of our irregular flashbacks to what Lord Bonkers was saying 30 years ago, we learnt of a time when the Duchess of Rutland showed him her Belvoir.

And I learnt that I may be related to the leading figure in an unfortunate incident that explains Lord Bonkers' conviction that it is the done thing to eat the cabin boy should one be shipwrecked.


Lord Bonkers had some advice for one of Labour's rising stars:

I see the coming Labour man Wes Streeting is putting it about that his grandfather was a member of the London underworld in the Sixties. All I shall say on the subject is that if the old geezer was one of Violent Bonham Carter’s boys, young Streeting would do well to keep schtum. 
His grandmother, incidentally, once shared a cell with Christine Keeler, who always struck me as a Terribly Nice Girl.

He also welcomed the election of Earl Russell to the House of Lords by his fellow hereditary peers, but feared he might ask awkward questions about what became of his father's big band:

It happens that I gave them sanctuary on an island in Rutland Water after Conrad’s death. From time to time I see them sporting on its shore in animal skins and playing upon rude instruments, and I know Meadowcroft rows out for the occasional jam session, but few others know of their presence. 

Will they thank me if I shatter their idyll? Can I continue to change the subject when my newest colleague broaches the matter?


The old boy responded in characteristically trenchant terms to Sebastian Payne's call for a restoration of National Service:

I find myself increasingly worried about right-wing comment journalists, who can only be described as unhappy, unskilled and unmoored. Flabby chested public-school types to a man, their eyes hollow from think-tank reports and self-abuse, what they need is fresh air, exercise and some good, old fashioned hard work. 

As we can supply all three of these here on my estate, I have determined to act. With the help of Freddie and Fiona, I have drawn up a list of recruits for my ‘Great Rutland National Service’.  

We also learnt more about Violent Bonham Carter when a young journalist came to the Hall to interview Lord Bonkers:

The researcher concludes by asking me a thoroughly modern question: what gender was Violent? I picture Violent in twin-set and pearls with three days' stubble hiding the razor scars and say firmly: "You didn’t argue with Violent. Violent Bonham Carter was whatever gender Violent Bonham Carter said Violent Bonham Carter was."


A letter to Fortean Times showed that someone else had entered the Bonkersphere:

On reaching the Old Rutland Inn, I knew I was making good progress. Passing this location, the road veers left and then right, and suddenly ... the roads were no longer bounded by country hedges and fences. 

Instead on either side of the road it was as if there was a row of houses, living room windows bleeding light and street lights illuminating from above where I knew there were none. They were indistinct, almost but not quite present given the dense fog conditions, set back from the road a little. 

As I drove through, my brain was screaming that this wasn't right, the shouldn't be there. Part of me wanted to stop but soon it was over and the fog and the darkness closed around the car once more and I kept going.


Who else could open up such an unexpected perspective on 19th-century political history?

For some reason, the historians rarely touch upon William Ewart Gladstone’s American Indian heritage, but I can reveal that Queen Victoria’s animus towards him was partly occasioned by his insistence on wearing a feathered headdress on state occasions and his habit of calling her “paleface” when she failed to agree with him. My own father told me that the occasional “heap big” cropped up in his conversation to the very end. 

Fairport Convention: Crazy Man Michael

This is a song written by Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick and sung by Sandy Denny. It appeared on Fairport Convention's 1969 album Liege and Lief.

Thompson had first set his words to a traditional folk tune, but Dave Swarbrick wasn't convinced:

"I thought that the words were great but that the tune weakened it ... He said that if I felt like that, why didn’t I write a tune for it? So I did."

It's usual to read Crazy Man Michael as an expression of grief and guilt at the death of Thompson's girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn when Fairport Convention's van overturned on the motorway coming back from a gig.

Richard Thompson himself is more measured:

"It is a very emotional song. In fact, it’s a song I only really started singing myself [in about 2004]. Firstly because it’s a difficult song melodically to sing, and I wanted to find a way to modify the melody slightly. 

"Plus it’s about Fairport’s car crash in ’69; there’s nothing in it directly about what happened. You could look at it circumspectly and say, ‘This is about losing my girlfriend,’ but at the time I was in hospital and I just began by writing a story, just enjoying the process of putting down a story. It emerged that it was about stuff close to home. 

"It is nice, given all that, to be able to get close to the traditional model."

Anyway, it's a magical song and a reminder of Fairport Convention in the days when they had two geniuses in the shape of Thompson and Sandy Denny.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

GUEST POST Councillor defections: The scores on the doors at the end of 2023

Augustus Carp with an end-of-year update on the number of councillors who have left the party under whose flag they were elected.

The end of the year is probably as good a time as any to consider recent changes of political allegiances amongst our elected councillors. For divers reasons, numerous individuals have decided to re-align themselves away from the political party whose views they espoused when elected.  

What this might mean is for you to decide – maybe it’s irrelevant, perhaps it’s just the manifestation of personal vanity, or it might be evidence of impending political change, either locally or nationally.  

In any event, I would suggest that any councillor jumping ship means the loss of a formerly dedicated party worker (and perhaps some of their family and friends) on whom their erstwhile parties might have been relying for the impending General Election. Have the parties kept centralised canvassing records, or will they disappear with the resigning councillor? Who will deliver the leaflets in that ward now? Who will run the poling stations on election day?

In headline terms, the net change in councillor defections since the last council elections in May 2023 is Conservatives down 48, the Lib Dems down 15 and the Nationalists down 12, with the Greens flat. The Labour tally of 100 defections elegantly mirrors the Conservative figure when I wrote my first guest post on this subject in February.  

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the year has been the series of mass defections from Labour, caused by events in Palestine. 

It’s difficult to ensure absolute accuracy, because a number of factors might have been in play, but over 60 Labour councillors have said that they have resigned because of these events; there have also been a handful of suspensions for the same reason.  

Mass resignations in Burnley (12 councillors) Oxford (11) Blackburn (10) and Walsall (9) have led to changes in the running of the council. Other mass resignations in Sheffield (8) and Hastings (10) do not appear to have the same cause, but it might be a factor in the latter case.  

It will be interesting to see if the Labour Party nationally is able to devise a face-saving mechanism to entice most of the defectors back into the fold, but perhaps the damage is done.  

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have lost on average 1.4 councillors every week. Let’s see what happens in 2024 when the local elections will be largely a replay of 2021, when the Conservatives made significant gains. It could be that, rather than defect or resign, more Conservative Councillors will retire early, in order for the vacancies to fit in with the May timetable.    

Postscript: Probably in an attempt to confuse my arithmetic, the Liberal Democrats have just announced half a defection to them – the Leader of Shetland Council has joined the Party, but will continue to sit as an Independent councillor.

Augustus Carp is the pen name of someone who has been a member of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats since 1976.

The Joy of Six 1190

"In March 2023, the EU made the historic decision to deliver a million artillery shells to Ukraine within 12 months. But the number that has actually been sent is closer to 300,000. For all the rhetorical commitments to support Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion “for as long as it takes”, Europe has largely failed." Jack Watling says Ukraine can still defeat Russia, but it will require far more support from Europe.

Hein de Haas argues that "we cannot divorce debates about immigration from broader debates about inequality, labour, social justice and, most importantly, the kind of society we want to live in".

Andy Neather explained two years ago why the Brexiteers' pint bottles of wine will never be seen on supermarket shelves.

"In an era when a woman’s role in Downing Street was limited largely to typing and filing, Williams had to fight to be taken seriously, while simultaneously keeping a jaw-dropping personal secret. During her time in No 10 she had two sons by the then Daily Mail chief political correspondent Walter Terry, managing to conceal two pregnancies and the children’s existence for years with the help of a rich party donor and a compliant Fleet Street." Gaby Hinsliff reviews the first biography of Marcia Williams.

"Have you ever felt a sense of joy because you knew you were missing out on an invitation to a party, shiny new opportunities or the latest social media posts and influencer trends because you were 'unplugged'? If so, then you have probably experienced 'jomo' - the joy of missing out." Fuschia Sirois introduces a valuable concept.

Pete Paphides on Paul Young and the greaetest non-Christmas Christmas song ever: "His number 9 hit Everything Must Change: a song which has scarcely impinged on a single waking thought I’d had in the preceding 39 years suddenly reactivated itself about three weeks ago, and all I can do is wonder what took me so long. It was in my head yesterday; it’s in my head now; and it’ll probably be there tomorrow."

Friday, December 29, 2023

The inspiration for Mr Brownlow was himself a foundling, just like Oliver Twist

When I published a book chapter on Charles Dickens and antisemitism a couple of years ago, I managed to slip in the expression 'well-behaved orphans'. But it turns out that the original Well-Behaved Orphan wasn't Oliver Twist but his benefactor, Mr Brownlow.

For the Wikipedia entry for Mr Brownlow says:

Mr Brownlow's name and character generally believed to be derived from John Brownlow, the director of the Foundling Hospital, which was dedicated to looking after abandoned and unwanted children. Dickens, a regular visitor to the hospital, knew Brownlow well. 

Dickens scholar Robert Alan Colby argues that "in naming Oliver's benefactor Mr Brownlow, Dickens seems to have been paying a tribute to one of the most dedicated social servants of his age".

The Foundling Hospital mentioned here is the one in Bloomsbury founded by Thomas Coram in 1739.

And, fascinatingly there is more about Mr Brownlow:

In 1831, seven years before Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, John Brownlow had written a novel about an orphan called Hans Sloane - a Tale, which has a plot broadly similar to Dickens's later work. Several critics have suggested that Dickens took aspects of the basic plot of his novel from Brownlow's earlier work, so the name may have been a tribute for two reasons.

Look up John Brownlow and you soon find Roy Sloan's History Hamper blog:

John Brownlow was the most famous and esteemed servant of the Foundling Hospital in the more than two centuries of its existence, from the opening of its doors in 1741 to final closure in 1954. He was himself a foundling. The son of Mary Goodacre, he was admitted on 9 August 1800 at the age of three months and given his new name and a number, 18,607. 

Like all of the foundlings, he spent his early years with a foster family (that of Mary Skinner of Hadlow, Kent) before being returned to the Hospital.  In 1814, instead of leaving to be apprenticed to an employer, he was taken into the Secretary’s office as a clerk, an arrangement that was formalised in 1817.  This was possibly an acknowledgement of his exceptional ability, although the formal register says ‘Invalided 18 June 1817’. 

He was promoted to Treasurer’s Clerk in 1828 and became Secretary, in charge of the day-to-day running of the institution, in 1849.  He was with the Hospital almost from cradle to grave, retiring in 1872 just a year before his death in August 1873.

While we're talking about Mr Brownlow, here are a couple of pieces of trivia connected with his appearance on the cinema screen.

First, in David Lean's 1948 Oliver Twist, Brownlow was played by the actor Henry Stephenson. He was born in 1871, which was the year after Charles Dickens died.

Second, in the BBC 'Ghost Story for Christmas' adaptation of M.R. James's short story Lost Hearts, the evil Mr Abney, who takes in a young orphan boy out of apparent benevolence but really out of a wish to consume his heart in pursuit of eternal life, is played by Joseph O'Conor. And Joseph O'Conor played Mr Brownlow in the 1968 film of Lionel Bart's Oliver.

G.K. Chesterton once said that Dickens' characters would soothe their optimistic creator with something less terrible than the truth. Could it be that Mr Brownlow was guilty of that too?

Is Lee Anderson the Balrog? It's the question everyone is asking

You fear to go into those mines. The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep.

That was Moria, where they let loose the Balrog.

The Dwarves were similarly ill advised in the Nottinghamshire coalfield and they let loose Lee Anderson.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Leicestershire's nine o'clock horses

My latest Joy of Six includes a piece by Francis Young on Britain's Christmas hobby horse customs, and I have seen other references to the Mari Lwyd and hoodening over the holiday.

All this has put me in mind of Leicester's nine o'clock horses. Roy Palmer writes about in his excellent Folklore of Leicestershire and Rutland in the context of the bogey man and other threats used by parents to keep their children in line:

By far the most widely-used threat was that of the nine o'clock horses which would mangle children who were out late, or even staying up too late. In some places they were called bell horses, which might indicate that the fear was originally connected with the curfew bell, which once rang at nine o'clock.

Most imagined them as real horses, ridden by Cossack-like horsemen. One child associated them with the horses that pulled the night-soil carts. Another heard the screams of their victims, but later realised he had been hearing train whistles.

Mr Ken Bell of Burbage remembers lingering at play one summer's evening early in the twentieth century, to the fury of his mother, who shouted: "I'll give you the nine o'clock horses". At that very moment the horse-drawn fire brigade came galloping through the village, and young Ken was in bed and under the blankets before the last hoof beats had died away.

The nine o'clock horses have been discussed by both the Leicester Mercury and the city's technology museum at Abbey Pumping Station

Both articles attribute these stories to the horse-drawn night-soil carts that took human waste out to the countryside for use as fertiliser. They say these carts weren't allowed into the city before nine in the evening, and add a story about children being stolen from there to work as farm labourers.

I'd like to see the evidence before I accept this explanation, which in any case does not account for the nine o'clock horses being familiar to children in Burbage, a village 15 miles from Leicester.

Later. There's a paragraph about the emptying of pail closets in the Victoria Country History of Leicestereshire. No mention of nine o'clock - and wouldn't you need daylight for such work? - and it seems that after the first couple of years the council did the emptying itself:

In 1871 the corporation decided to introduce the pail-closet system, which had been successful in various northern towns, and some 7,000 pail-closets were eventually installed. This development certainly did much to relieve the defective sewers, but difficulties arose in the removal and disposal of the night soil. At first, up to 1873, this had been removed by contractors, but the system proved unsatisfactory, and the task was then undertaken directly by the local authority although it proved to be very expensive. The night soil was loaded upon railway wagons in a siding in Freak's Ground, but the nuisance caused by this led in 1878 to legal proceedings against the corporation. Subsequently the sewage was loaded on to canal barges but this caused complaints that the canal was being polluted. The pail-closets were in fact never a satisfactory substitute for an adequate sewage system. 

Alan Sugar makes the case for the Single European Market

Alan Sugar makes the case for the European Single Market in a video issued by the Department of Trade and Industry. As the market was launched on 1 January 1993, this presumably dates from a year or two before.

In doing so, he reminds us that one of the great benefits of the European Union was the way it reduced the red tape involved in exporting.

And the need to avoid that bureaucracy means that British business is likely to continue to meet EU standards even though we now have no say in drawing them up.

As I wrote in Liberator earlier this year, out of economic pragmatism rather then federalist enthusiasm:

There is no sensible policy on economic growth that does not involve lifting the sanctions we imposed on ourselves by leaving the Single Market, and that is true whatever position you took on Brexit. This is why Labour should be talking about rejoining it and why even intelligent Leavers – those who really do want to ‘make Brexit work’ – should support this policy too. (The unintelligent Leavers want Brexit to fail so they can announce that have been betrayed and wallow in self-pity.)

Interviewed on Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s second podcast Leading at the start of the month, Ed Davey declined to say that the Liberal Democrats wanted to see Britain back in the European Union. He was happy to talk about our instinctive internationalism, but that was as far as he would go. He dwelt on the need to develop a language that would take people with us, which is something, it is true, the official Leave campaign spectacularly failed to do in the EU referendum campaign. Above all, he did not want to return to the divisive politics of those days.

Yet it’s hard to see how an issue like Brexit can ever stop being divisive. The 1975 referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Economic Community was won by more than two votes to one, but it did not reconcile the losers to Britain’s increasing involvement with European institutions. 

No one would argue that the 2016 referendum campaign was good for British politics – Labour activists going to by-elections now have to be told not to insult any Conservative voters they came across – but the case for rejoining the Single Market has to be made and the debate has to be won. As sensible Conservatives has learnt to their cost, if you try to buy off the Brexit ultras they simply bank your concessions and come back for more.

Beneath the Surface: Peter Greenaway on Drowning by Numbers

On holiday in Southwold years ago, I wondered why the town seemed oddly familiar. Then I realised it's because Peter Greenaway's film Drowning by Numbers was shot there.

Greenaway had a vogue in the 1980s but seems rather forgotten today. I think that's a shame. Here he talks about Drowning by Numbers and about his approach to making films more generally.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Plan to introduce wild bears, wolves and lynx to the shores of Rutland Water

Good news from the Leicester Mercury:

Bears, wolves and even lynxes could be on the doorstep of Rutland Water if plans are approved. The move, if successful, would see wildlife return to the area for the first time in nearly 1,000 years.

The plan, which is to be formally proposed in the New Year, would see a new nature reserve created in Rutland’s Oakham, with 1,000 acres of land stretching from Burley Wood to the Oakham bypass transformed. 

The end result would be called Wild Rutland and could see the likes of Eurasian brown bears and lynxes, which were once native to the UK, make the reserve their home.

No, the plan doesn't belong to Lord Bonkers but to two generations of farmers, James and Joss Hanbury. I don't know if they are descendants of William Hanbury, who once had equally grand (and arguably safer) ambitions at Church Langton.

It is true, however, that Lord Bonkers wrote this in one of his most recent diary entries:

To London for the annual general meeting of the National Trust as I am seriously considering opening the gardens at the Hall to the public next year. The ill-feeling occasioned by the sudden closure of the Bonkers Hall Safari Park appears at last to have abated – really, you have one coachload of nuns involved in an unfortunate incident and you never hear the last – so perhaps it is time to dip a toe in the stately home racket again.

Later. A reader has kindly sent me the link to a Daily Mail article that tells you all about the Hanburys:
Harrow-educated hedge fund manager whose father is a friend of Prince Charles wins £110MILLION by betting Britain would vote for Brexit and the pound would tumble
  • Rising star James Hanbury guessed Britain would shock by voting Leave
  • Decided to take the risk on basis there was a lot to gain and little to lose 
  • The fund manager, 36, has doubled his clients' money in the last five years 
  • He is the son of Prince Charles's millionaire hunting pal Joss Hanbury
And so on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

On the Omnibuses: The radical roots of On the Buses

I had dozed off with the TV on a high-numbered channel and woke up a little way into this. You can imagine my confusion. What was I seeing?

If I say it's nothing like a usual episode of On the Buses, many readers will be delighted.

But maybe we shouldn't be so surprised to find the show encompassing a tutorial on Edwardian trade union law. Because there were remarkable links between ITV situation comedy and Joan Littlewood's radical and experimental Theatre Royal at Stratford East.

Earlier today I watched Sparrows Can't Sing, a 1963 film about social change in the East End adapted from a play that emerged from Littlewood's theatre.

The cast was extraordinary: James Booth, Barbara Windsor, Roy Kinnear, George Sewell, Murray Melvin and Harry H. Corbett.

And among it too were many future stalwarts of ITV situation comedy among the cast: Brian Murphy, Yootha Joyce, Arthur Mullard, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis and Queenie Watts. Yet ITV sit coms have always been ranked below the BBC's output.

The original play, titled Sparrers Can't Sing, owed much to Frank Norman and Lionel Bart's musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, and was developed by the cast in rehearsal. But for the film, a single writer was credited.

It was Stephen Lewis, later famous as Blakey from On the Buses. And On the Omnibuses was written by him and Bob Grant, who played Jack the conductor.

But enough from me: it's time for On the Omnibuses.

The Joy of Six 1189

"Give or take the odd percentage point, and Sir John tries to persuade the media not to sensationalise small, meaningless poll movements, Labour has a solid lead of around 20 per cent over their Tory rivals. ... Parties in Downing Street during lockdown and the disastrous 49-day Truss premiership helped make up a lot of minds and the electorate don’t show any signs of forgetting or forgiving." John Curtice sees no signs of a Conservative revival in time for the next election.

John Jewell looks at three key moments in the phone-hacking scandal and at what happens next.

Mark Gatiss on the enduring appeal of the BBC’s Christmas ghost stories: "James’s stories do lend themselves very well to television shorts. They’re very clever short stories and, with the exception of ‘Casting the Runes’, they’re not epic. They’re very contained, which is very handy as you can achieve a lot with them on a small budget."

"For someone essentially leading the tempo and measuring impact of 50 other musicians, he made it look like he was doing all the work, sweating like he was carrying a grand piano single-handed up a flight of stairs. You looked at him more than you listened to the music." John Podhoretz on Maestro - and Leonard Bernstein.

The Gentle Author looks again at old photographs of London: "The slow exposures of these photographs included fine detail of inanimate objects, just as they also tended to exclude people who were at work and on the move but, in spite of this, the more I examine these pictures the more inhabited they become."

"The 'hobby horse' as we know it today is a children’s toy, a stick with a wooden horse’s head held between the legs and 'ridden” — but, in common with many activities and rituals we now relegate to children, hobby horses were once part of adult festivities. They were also particularly associated with Christmas time, and took a wider variety of forms than we see today. Francis Young argues that 'animal guising' customs offer important insights into British festive culture.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Coventry Cathedral Choir: The Coventry Carol

This recording by the boys of Coventry Cathedral Choir is on an LP issued in 1971.

The 16th-century Coventry Carol was traditionally performed in Coventry as part of a mystery play, The Pageant of Shearman and the Tailors, which relates the Christmas story from the second chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew and refers to the Massacre of the Innocents. It takes the form of a lullaby sung by the mothers of the doomed children.

And on that cheerful note, let me wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Burgam: The last lead mine in the Stiperstones

A flickering pinpoint of naked flame leads the way through the low and narrow passage: dank and pitch black, where the smell of candle grease mingles with that of freshly turned earth and slimy rock.

Suddenly, there it is; a thin greyish streak running horizontally through the Stiperstones rock. An anticlimax to the man in the street who has painfully struggled the length of the 100-yard shaft to catch a glimpse of a lead seam. 
But to Norman Evans and Tom Rowson, who between them work Burgam Lead Mine, between Snailbeach and The Bog, south-west of Shrewsbury, this seam means bread and butter and something else. It means that their six year search for renewed prosperity in the last remaining mine in the Stiperstones can continue.
The Shropshire Mining and Caving Club website has a What the Papers Said section of articles from the local press. The earliest of them date from the 18th century.

The one above is from the Express & Star of 4 April 1959 and gives a good picture of what the attempts to continue lead mining in Shropshire into the 20th century were like. The mines had been profitable through the second half of the 19th century, but the deposits were limited and had been more or less worked out by 1900.

I have been a little way into Burgam Mine myself. As late as the mid-1990s, its entrance stood unguarded beside the road near Stiperstones village and, along with some of the more intrepid members of the Malcolm Saville Society, I once followed the adit a little way into the hillside.

When, years later, I looked for the entrance, the area had been landscaped and I could find no trace of it. But it will have been somewhere near where I took this photo.

Police arrest woman after finding her hiding under giant teddy bear in Boughton

Embed from Getty Images

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to Nottinghamshire Live for this tale of crime fighting in the East Midlands.

Thanks to the reader who nominated it, and also to the judges for their services throughout the year. They were wearing paper hats and eating mince pies when they made this adjudication.

Friday, December 22, 2023

See a young Paddy Ashdown on Talking Pictures TV this evening

Today is the fifth anniversary of Paddy Ashdown's death. I still mourn him as a man and a leader.

By coincidence, at 20.50 this evening Talking Pictures TV (Freeview Channel 82) is showing a short Look at Life film from 1964 about British troops in Sarawak. At one point we see a young Marines officer... Lieutenant Ashdown.

Talking Pictures has a free online catch-up service - TPTV Encore - where most of its programmes appear. In case this one doesn't, I've added an excerpt from the film above.

Later. The film will be on TPTV Encore until 29 December - search for 'Trouble-shooters'. You have to register with the site, but it it's free to use.

Leicestershire Lib Dems see off the Tories, Labour and Santa

There was a triple triumph for the Liberal Democrats in Leicestershire yesterday. 

In local by-elections we held the Blaby and Glen Parva ward of Leicestershire County Council and the Glen Parva ward of Blaby District Council, and gained a seat on Blaby Parish Council.

This gain was despite the opposing candidate standing under the label 'Independent and Volunteer Village Santa'.

Such a label must give rise to concern that the candidate has been treating the voters (but only if they've been nice).

Congratulations to the winning candidates and to Blaby Lib Dems. You can see the full results below.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Spencer Davis Group on Ready Steady Go!, 14 May 1965

Here as an early Christmas present, if only to myself, is an audio recording of the Spencer Davis Group on the television pop show Ready Steady Go! 

As the song they sing, My Babe, is on their first LP, Their First LP, I assume this is from the band's debut on the programme. That was on 14 May 1965.

My Babe was first written and performed by Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley, who were about to find fame as The Righteous Brothers.

At the time of this edition of Ready Steady Go!, Steve Winwood was three months past his 17th birthday. This recording is a reminder that he was a celebrated blues guitarist long before he became known for playing the Hammond organ. He is also the singer here.

The Joy of Six 1188

Peter Geogehan reminds us that Michelle Mone is a symptom of a much deeper disease corrupting British politics.

"In the hours after the arrest, pretty much every British political media organization prominently reported the man’s arrest, together with his age, his position as an MP, and his alleged crimes. But while every reporter in Westminster knew exactly who he was, it took more than a year before anybody dared publish his name." Esther Webber explains how British libel law lets bad people get away with bad things."

"I am the only reader present in what’s typically a bustling space. The library’s reading rooms are now zombies. As public service announcements have brightly reported, the rooms are still open for 'personal study'. That said, visitors cannot request, retrieve, or use materials (for the most part), from the library’s vast collections." Carolyn Dever on the strangely unreported cyberattack that has crippled the British Library,

Alexandra Wilson says the idea that the best young academics end up working at the best universities is a myth.

Jonathan Liew reports on the dwindling of the London darts scene: "But this is a drowned world now, a lost world. Walk a mile in any direction from Alexandra Palace, where the Professional Darts Corporation hosts its world championships, and the rich darting heritage that birthed a worldwide phenomenon exists only in ghosts and whispers."

"Before the movie played, however, viewers were invited into a mocked-up American motel room, with a garish pink and blue neon sign blaring outside the window. A young chap with an electric shock haircut and a leather jacket sidled in to talk a little about Robin Hardy’s picture and the season of outsider films for which it marked the beginning." Richard Luck celebrates Alex Cox and Moviedrome.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

8-year-old British girl finishes as top woman player in European blitz chess championships

BBC News reports what is arguably the most extraordinary achievement in the history of British chess:

An eight-year-old girl has been crowned best female player at the European blitz chess championships.

Bodhana Sivanandan, from Harrow, north-west London, scored 8.5/13 at the event in Croatia, finishing ahead of seasoned professionals in the process.

She defeated an international master and drew with a grandmaster, in a result described as "unbelievable".

The chess prodigy, who began playing aged five, said she was "proud" of her performance over the weekend.

Bodhana finsihed 73rd in the, ahead of several male grandmasters and other established players. Her score of 8.5/13 won her the prize for the top woman player.

A total of 555 players participated in the event, among them 48 grandmasters.

The game above is not spectacular, but it's typical of Bodhana's mature, positional style. She draws with Black against the experienced Romanian grandmaster Vladislav Nevednichy, who is her senior by 46 years.

Meanwhile, Rami Taleb, a veteran of 10, has become the chess champion of Cornwall.

GUEST POST Look out for lobbying in the Listed Election

Augustus Carp on the emergence of a new lobbying group - just in time for the general election.

Do you live in a listed building? And do you live in a marginal seat? If so, it looks like the next general election is the one for you!

The Listed Property Owners Club (a buyer’s club and lobbying group) has been campaigning for years for VAT to be waived or reduced for repairs to listed buildings.  

They also have doubts as to whether or not HMRC is implementing VAT on listed buildings in the way originally intended by parliament.  

Obviously, that’s shameless special pleading for a vested interest, but it’s an interesting proposition for all that – maybe it might be a Good Thing if repairs that need to meet exacting local authority Listed building standards were a bit less expensive, in order to preserve both old buildings and the housing stock.

Whatever. At the next General Election, the Listed Property Owners Club has decided to lobby all candidates in the marginal seats with the most listed buildings in them, to seek agreement for their policy paper on the subject. 

So far, they have identified Mid Devon (4756 listed buildings), Frome (4155) and Berwick on Tweed (3574). They assume 2.5 voters per listed building, and say “You can see how important our vote will be.”

Time permitting, they hope to get candidates’ responses back to their members before polling day.  So, if you are canvassing a Grade II* Georgian Rectory or a weaver’s cottage with interesting  plasterwork, be on your guard for some rather unusual questions about the Whole Heritage Agenda and the standards for local authority consent orders.

Augustus Carp is the pen name of someone who has been a member of the Liberal Party and then the Liberal Democrats since 1976.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Peter Bone out of parliament as recall petition succeeds

From NN Journal this evening:

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone’s 13 year political career has ended in disgrace this evening as residents have decided to remove him as their MP.

In the last ten minutes,  recall petition administrators North Northamptonshire Council, announced that 10,505 Wellingborough and Rushden constituents signed their names to end his political career. Ten percent were needed to remove the MP. In the end 13 per cent signed it.

The recall petition was begun after parliament suspended the MP following a damning report published in October which found during 2012 and early 2013 he had bullied and indecently exposed himself to a male employee.

Peter Bone has tweeted a statement complaining that he has lost his seat even though 87 per cent of voters in the constituency had failed to sign the petition.

Let's pause a moment to appreciate the irony: when Nick Clegg brought in this recall system under the Coalition, the right-wing of the Conservative Party complained bitterly that he had made it too hard to get rid of an MP.

A by-election will now take place. Gen Kitchen will be the Labour candidate and Ana Savage Gunn the Liberal Democrat.

Jane Dodds condemns the "faceless brutes" who target women politicians online

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So far, reports the Nation Cymru website, two men have declared themselves as candidates for the leadership of Welsh Labour, but no women.

Despite rumours of Eluned Morgan and Hannah Blythyn joining the race for the First Minister job, both have since ruled themselves out and there are currently no women expected to stand.

On Sunday, Mark Drakeford told Politics Wales that despite there being “hugely talented” women in the Labour group, people know they will be the target for “deeply unpleasant” attacks on social media.

Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, agrees with Drakeford. She told Nation Cymru:

“I welcome the First Minister’s condemnation of vile personal online attacks on female politicians, speaking from my own personal experience I know first hand how exhausting it can be to receive horrific abuse online.

“As the only female leader of a political party in Wales, I know all too well the perils of social media when it comes to abuse from cowards hiding behind their screens.

“The reaction that female politicians receive from certain sections of social media can be both emotionally and mentally draining.

“These so-called keyboard warriors represent the very worst of our society, faceless brutes with nothing better to do with their lives than spread their misery and hatred to others.

“More action must be taken to curb these trolls, whilst many of their comments are nothing but empty threats, the mental impact they have can be severe.

“We must do more to protect female politicians from harmful online abuse, whilst also at the same time encourage more women to get involved in politics.”

I don't know the precise measures Jane Dodds has in mind, but it's clear that online threats of violence must be taken as seriously as threats of violence anywhere else. And it would be good to see more men challenging online sexism. 

Britain already suffers because it draws upon such a small (and often shallow) pool of talent to fill many important roles. We mustn't allow sexist trolls to make things even worse.

Monday, December 18, 2023

PC Bodger's finest hour: The opening of Chew Valley Lake

Writing about my mother's stories of the Somerset Constabulary in the 1950s, and of one PC Bodger in particular, the other day, I said:

And there was his finest hour: the opening of the Chew Valley Reservoir. 

The stories of his controlling the crowds with a megaphone - "Make way for Her Majesty the Queen" and "You boys! Stop playing with your balls there in the street" - went round the force.

And here, wonderfully, is a film incorporating extensive colour footage of that day, 17 April 1956. Click on the still above to go to YouTube and play the whole thing.

There are plenty of policemen in the background, though I can't claim to have spotted Bodger and his megaphone.

You can see Jacob Rees-Mogg's granny being presented to the Queen, however.

It seems the reservoir was called Chew Valley Lake right from the start, so that's what I have called it here.

Little Bowden Police Station and Magistrates Court - and my political career

This attractive building stands in Northampton Road, Market Harborough, and the Prison History site gives you its early history:

In the Northampton Mercury of Saturday 5th September 1863 was an advertisement for builders to submit tenders for the building of a new Police Station and Magistrates Room at Little Bowden, with separate tenders needed for both. 

In the Northampton Mercury of Saturday 22nd October 1864 it was stated that the Chief Constable had taken possession of the station and placed an inspector and constable there. In the Northampton Mercury of Saturday 7th January 1865 it was reported that the Magistrates took possession of the Magistrates Room on 13th December 1864. 

Little Bowden Police Station on Northampton Road, Market Harborough is still standing and, I believe, is now used for private offices.

The building was used for private offices until recently, but was then put on the market. I'm not sure if it found a buyer.

The Chief Constable who took possession of the police station here in 1864 was the head of the Northamptonshire Constabulary, because the boundary between that county and Leicestershire followed the River Welland through Market Harborough until the 1890s. So a fair percentage of the town's population and offenders lived in Northants.

At some point after that boundary change the police station closed and became the offices of Market Harborough Urban District Council. I'm told there are still cells beneath it.

Little Bowden Magistrates Court continued to sit until about 1960, hearing cases from the Northamptonshire villages south of the town. It also served as the UDC's council chamber until the authority was abolished in 1974.

When, in 1984. I returned from working in Birmingham and London, the building was occupied by a sports club, The Olympian. It took its name from its owner, Brian Kilby, who had finished fourth in the Marathon at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. By some reckonings, he also held the world Marathon record for over a year in 1963-4.

In 1984 Brian Kilby was a Conservative member of Harborough District Council, but we noticed that he had stopped attending meetings - I believe he was having business problems - and selected a candidate for a possible by-election in his ward. That candidate was me.

I forget whether Kilby was disqualified as a councillor or decided to resign, but the by-election duly took place in May 1986 and I gained the seat for the Liberal Party, appearing as 'Liberal Alliance' on the ballot paper.

My memory may be faulty on some of these points, local readers, so please let me know if I've got anything wrong.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Joy of Six 1187

"There is a strained cosiness to modern Christmas, but beneath the lights and mulled wine lurks the black pause of the year’s end. It is a time for barred doors and ghost stories. John Masefield understood these things." Alexander Poots on The Box of Delights and Deep England.

Samantha Booth reveals that investors are making millions from the 'bankrupt' public SEND (Special educational needs and disability) system.

"Since 2010, the supply of new trainee teachers compared with need has slowed to a trickle while the rate at which teachers are leaving the profession has continued to grow, leaving schools stuck in a vicious cycle of low recruitment and high attrition." Matilda Martin investigates why England is losing its teachers and how we can get them back.

James Bloodworth argues that Jordan Peterson and the wider populist right aren't anti-elitists: "They simply have their own pretensions to elite status and resent the fact that they aren’t treated with the prestige and reverence they believe they are entitled to.

Rachel Garratt examines how Captain Ian Fraser used his position as an MP and disabled veteran to campaign for radio access for blind people.

"Above all, I love the badass nuns who vandalise the Nazis’ cars – it’s so nice to see the Catholic church bending the rules positively for a change." Noo Saro-Wiwa sees The Sound of Music as an edgy, progressive film.

Black Box Recorder: The English Motorway System

I may dream of one day seeing thistles force their way up through the concrete, but that's not how Black Box Recorder saw things:

The English motorway system is beautiful and strange,
It's been there forever, it's never going to change.

The band flourished around the turn of the century, and this is a track from The Facts of Life, the second of their three LPs, which was released in May 2000.

Black Box Recorder consisted of Sarah Nixey, who was the singer, Luke Haines of The Auteurs, and John Moore, formerly of The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Former Tory council leader will back Labour if there's a Wellingborough by-election

If the recall petition against Peter Bone succeeds then Labour will have the support of a former Conservative leader of Wellingborough Borough Council, reports the Mirror:
Martin Griffiths, who has served as a councillor for 17 years, and is a former leader of Wellingborough Borough Council, said the area needs an “honest MP. Someone with integrity who puts residents first.” 
In a video message announcing he’d back Labour candidate Gen Kitchen, he said: “Our former Conservative MP has exploited his position, refused to stand down when called out and is costing taxpayers in excess of £100,000.”
The petition closes on Tuesday and the Liberal Democrat candidate if there is a by-election will be Ana Savage Gunn

Neal Ascherson and fables of the reconstruction of Germany

This blog's hero Neal Ascherson writes on the former East Germany in the current London Review of Books:

Travelling around Mecklenburg in 1991, in what had been the GDR six months before, was a disorienting experience. Again and again, I was reminded of Reconstruction in America, the traumatic aftermath of the Civil War. Here again was a sullen, defeated society. 
There had been no gunfire, but West Germany felt as victorious as the American North must have done in 1865. Here once more came the carpetbaggers, smart operators from Frankfurt or DΓΌsseldorf pouring into East Germany to loot its collapsing industrial and service economy. While silent locals stood with their bicycles in the rain, gleaming black BMWs swept past carrying Treuhand officials on their way to privatise or close more state factories. 
As in the old South, a whole ideology justifying the power structure had been switched off, and its guardians – in this case, the SED, the National People’s Army and the immense web of the Stasi and its informers – found themselves out on the street.

Since then the gap between living standards in the former East and West, though still 26 per cent in 2020, has narrowed. And yet, just as sophisticated Manhattanites despair at the South’s refusal to forget a past that would be better forgotten, West German ‘Wessis’ are unnerved to find how many ‘Ossis’ insist on remembering a disconcertingly ‘other’ life in that phantom Germany.

Ascherson writes beautifully and is endlessly interesting. Another point he brings up is that the East German Communists saw themselves as the true heirs and interpreters of Karl Marx's thought, and thus morally and intellectually superior to the ruling party in the Soviet Union.

Friday, December 15, 2023

A reading of The Mine by L.T.C. Rolt

Robert Aickman and L.T.C. Rolt were among the pioneers of the movement to preserve and restore Britain's inland waterways. I believe they had fallen out by the time of the Inland Waterways Association's first Festival of Boats, which was held here in Market Harborough in 1950.

Both wrote ghost stories. Aickman is celebrated as one of the modern masters of the genre, while Rolt is rather forgotten.

I did read some of Rolt's stories years ago. My memory is that his set ups were good, with railways and canals prominent, but let down by too much dialogue with quaint locals. 

"Lor bless 'ee, sir, there bain't been no trains here for twenty years nor more."

That sort of thing.

This reading of Rolt's story The Mine suggests my memory may be unfair, and not just because it is set at Snailbeach in Shropshire.

The Lib Dems are back in North Kesteven

Yesterday was a good day for the Liberal Democrats in council by-elections, but as an East Midlander (albeit one born in Hampshire) I can be forgiven for concentrating on our gain in Lincolnshire.

The victorious Lib Dem candidate was Adrian Whittle, whose father was a Conservative district councillor hererabouts for 11 years. Adrian himself was a Tory until the EU referendum.

He becomes our first member of North Kesteven District Council for some 20 years, and the report on My Local Lincolnshire makes it clear that, despite his history, Adrian is a Lib Dem through and through:
"The first job I want to do is try and map all the potholes in the ward because that is something that drives everybody up the wall. It's a bone of contention for most residents.

"There's a lot of bad streets, and while I can't go and fix them individually, if I can draw up a complete list of them, then I will certainly be taking it to the relevant people and say, 'look, can we have a plan of action'?"
That's going to mean a lot of pointing, but here's to more Lib Dem gains in North Kesteven.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Joy of Six 1186

Alexandra Hall Hall reminds us that the European Court of Human Rights is there to safeguard us against our own worst impulses, and that calls to leave its jurisdiction are deeply troubling.

"The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, comprising MPs and peers from both Houses of Parliament, is alarmed that attempts to interfere may be made in the next general election – with no proper protection for politicians and political parties - and have sought an urgent meeting with the National Cyber Security Centre to discuss the matter." David Hencke on new confirmation of Russian attempts to interfere in British elections.

Ian Acheson argues that it's not the Red Wall the Tories should be worrying about but the West Country.

Sir Robert Neill, a Conservative MP, argues that We should not send pregnant women to prison unless they have committed serious violent offences.

"It is not, perhaps, the fact that Ransome was a spy that we find so incredible. It is simply that the man who wrote Swallows and Amazons, who epitomised the plain talking and simple moral values that once made the empire great, could have been so complicated. In short it seems that we are doomed to think of Ransome according to the rigid stereotypes that informed his own novels." Author, journalist and dedicated bohemian, Arthur Ransome was a complicated person. Could he also have been a double agent? Roland Chambers examines the life of a man who spied for Britain at the same time as he fell in love with Trotsky's secretary

"The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy by Penelope Lively, published in 1971, is a classic of what would later become known as folk horror - and, indeed, what would later become known as young adult literature, long before either term had been coined." Francis Young says Lively's book seems more in tune with present-day preoccupations with the revival and reinvention of customs than with the ‘'survivalist' approaches to folklore that still largely held sway in 1971.

Ed Davey talks about adversity and achievement on the What I Wish I'd Known podcast

For The Times podcast What I Wish I'd Known, Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester talk to:

extraordinary people living astonishing lives to learn from those who excel in sport, politics, the arts, business and more, despite real adversity. We hear their secrets and their inspirations, and learn how you too can thrive after life’s setbacks.

Well, maybe you can, though it should be mentioned that many people never make a full recovery from early adversity.

The podcast's latest guest is Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats:

He was just four years old when his father John George died and after years of caring for his mother Nina, who was diagnosed with incurable cancer, she passed away too when he was only 15. 
Ed has remained a positive outlook on life, focused on his work, he’s adamant that he’s never felt sorry for himself. 
Yet when Ed’s son, John, was born with a rare neurological condition and he became a carer once again in adulthood, it's astonishing to comprehend the resilience that Ed has learned. 

Ed's is a moving and humbling story, and you can listen to it on The Times's website.

The devilish sacrifice of Altany Craik

Labour's control freakery has plumbed new depths in the Kingdom of Fife. judging by this report from the Guardian:

A veteran Scottish Labour councillor in Fife has quit the contest to be his party’s local candidate in next year’s general election after concerns were raised about his “sexy and satanic” novel writing.

Altany Craik told the Guardian that he had withdrawn from the selection process to represent Scottish Labour in the Glenrothes constituency “for family reasons”.

But sources close to Craik, who was first elected as a councillor in 2012 and is now the second most senior councillor in Fife’s Labour-led administration, suggested he had stepped aside because the party had raised issues about the content and themes of the occult horror books that he writes as a hobby.

His novels, which he publishes independently, include a series set in Scotland featuring a psychic priest named Father Andrew Steel who investigates occult-related crimes.

It now seems impossible, at least in the Labour Party, to have or to have had any sort of life outside politics if you want to be a parliamentary candidate. Unless an inner press officer has approved your every action in advance since you were 16, you are bound to have done something that will rule out your selection.

Meanwhile, by imagining a public that disapproves of horror fiction and then pandering to it, Labour helps to bring that very public into being. The reality is that horror fiction is very popular and Craik has already stood in Westminster and Holyrood elections without concerns being raised about his writing.

Incidentally, Altay Craik appears to be his real name, but if you were inventing of a pen name under which to publish horror fiction, you'd never come up with something that good.

The Guardian report ends with a quote from a spokesperson for Scottish Labour:

"Selection processes for Scottish Labour parliamentary candidates are properly administered in full accordance with procedures set by the Scottish executive committee."

So anodyne, so devoid of interest are those words that I expect whoever wrote them to be offered a safe seat by the end of the week with a view to their becoming a member of Labour's cabinet after the next election.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Powell and Pressburger's most bizarre moments

From the blurb on the British Film Institute YouTube channel.

Part of the enduring majesty of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's cinema comes from their ability to undercut the prim and proper sensibility of wartime filmmaking with moments that are deeply strange, sometimes even disturbing. 

In this video essay director Will Webb highlights scenes from Powell + Pressburger films - including The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I'm Going and Black Narcissus - that tilt us off-balance, shaking what we thought we knew about the world's that one of cinema's greatest filmmaking partnerships created.

He also, I'm pleased to say, looks at A Canterbury Tale and Gone to Earth - cue shots of Jennifer Jones on the Stiperstones.

Concert pianist elected chair of South Shropshire Lib Dems

The Shropshire Star has put up a paywall, so we go instead to the Ludlow & Tenbury Wells Advertiser:

A concert pianist who has been elected to chair the Liberal Democrats for the new South Shropshire constituency.

David Gaukroger, who has been chair of the Ludlow Town Lib Dems since 2011 and a former Cleobury Mortimer councillor, replaces Councillor Heather Kidd MBE. 

Mr Gaukroger is well known in South Shropshire for his recent Flanders and Swann concerts with tenor Kim Begley in Ludlow’s Assembly Rooms, and has just performed in ‘A Christmas Carol’, in aid of MND research. 

“After Helen Morgan MP’s by-election triumph in North Shropshire - and our two stunning recent council by-election wins here in Worfield, and in Alveley and Claverley - it’s clear voters across Shropshire are turning to the Lib Dems," he said.

"For too long the Conservatives have taken voters here for granted.”

“South Shropshire had a Lib Dem MP, Matthew Green just a few years ago. I’m sure that with our parliamentary candidate Chris Naylor - who lives in All Stretton, in the heart of the constituency - we’ll be winning South Shropshire back again soon.”

If that sounds overconfident, remember that the president of South Shropshire Conservatives recently said much the same thing:

The outcome of the Worfield by-election carries significant implications for the Conservative Party. It was one of the safest divisions in South Shropshire (formerly Ludlow). Losing there, with such a strong swing against and no impediments to the campaign goes further than the lessons from North Shropshire that there are no safe seats for the Conservatives in rural Britain.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Looking back on 'Satanic ritual abuse' and The Turn of the Screw

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Like the December one before it, the Christmas issue of Fortean Times has an article from the era - the late Eighties and early Nineties - when the concept of 'Satanic Ritual abuse' flourished.

Its author, Bob Rickard, is most interested in the way this modern form of witch hunting took on the ideology of the medieval form of the pastime. But I am more interested by the way a humane modern view risked turning supposed child victims into suspects.

Rickard writes:

Where Lady Butler-Sloss's 1988 inquiry into child abuse recommended that a child's allegations "should always be taken seriously", it seemed reasonable that this meant deserving a 'proper' investigation. However, some social workers and childcare professionals sought to interpret the injunction as to believe a child's account literally and as wholly factual.

If a child's account of events had such high status, it was inevitable that it would be the supposed child victims who were grilled rather than the supposed abusers. 

It felt as though what was being sought from them was not so much a witness statement as a confession. There was an anxiety or an insistence that the child should 'disclose' abuse, as it was termed, and everything from browbeating to bribery, according to Rickard's account, was used to obtain it.

I am reminded of the importance of a suspect's confession in Softly, Softly: Taskforce and the varied ways that Chief Superintendent Barlow would set about achieving it.

But. even more, I am reminded of the ending of Henry James's ghost story The Turn of the Screw. where the boy Miles has to name Peter Quint even at the cost of his own life. Whether anything untoward had really happened or it was all in the mind of the governess who narrates the story is debated to this day.

What becomes of orphaned prawns?

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The writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce was once waiting to be seen in an A&E department and asked his Twitter followers to entertain him by sending jokes.

This was in the era when The Prawn Joke was the funniest joke a friend and I could conceive of. We had long since passed the stage where we told it to one other: we just had to think of its existence to be convulsed.

The Poke website saw the jokes from FCB's followers on Twitter and posted an article with 21 of the best - or maybe that should be the worst. The Prawn Joke was one of those selected.

Charlie Chaplin said "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot," and it turns out that is very much true of prawns' lives too.